Continuing a Family Legacy
An Interview with:
Dorsey Thorley, MD, FAAP
Internist and Pediatrician at Cool Springs Internal Medicine & Pediatrics
· Grew up in Murfreesboro
· Went to college at Duke University
· Went to medical school & residency at Vanderbilt
· Spent a month in New Zealand during residency
· Practicing medicine for 8.5 years in Nashville
How did you start in Medicine?
Both my parents are doctors to this day so I grew up in a medical family and watched their example. They are both Family Physicians and have a private practice clinic together in Murfreesboro. I was born the month after they started their medical practice together and I always saw them loving the work that they do. So naturally I was always asked growing up, "Are you going to be a doctor," to which I would emphatically answer, "No!" I had plans to either be a marine biologist, a journalist or a chemist. Then I went to college and realized that I didn't want to do any of those things. However I really liked science and loved the idea of helping people... so that combined with my observation of my parents growing up led me to begin to think that what they did was not all that bad of an idea. Then I volunteered with Child Life at Duke Children’s Hospital and did arts and crafts with the kids. I found this experience to be fun and I thought about how much more I could offer to kids if I was better equipped to help them. These experiences started to come together during my time at Duke and I began moving towards medicine.
What makes your business/practice unique in our community?
Cool Springs Internal Medicine & Pediatrics was founded in 1997 by Dr. Danny Edmonson and Dr. Brad Bullock. We are still an independent practice that has grown to 5 physicians and 10 nurse practitioners. We are open 7 days a week and have extended hours on the weeknights for our walk-in clinic. We have 2 locations so that gives our patients some options and access to other providers if I am not available for them.
How do your life experiences make you a better physician?
My parents certainly set a wonderful example for me of what it means to be a great physician. They modeled how to be engaged in the lives of their patients and the community in such a way that it really impacted me. Another life experience that really impacted the way I view medical care was when I was the patient. I had some complications with my pregnancy and that was a time where I was on the other side of the patient-doctor relationship. It helped me to feel what my patients are going through. That experience really sharpened my understanding of the patient as they are wondering, waiting, and fearing what may happen. It also made it clearer to me what it felt like to not be listened to. Trying to tell a doctor my concern and being ignored was not a good feeling. I never want to do that to my patients. Thankfully my OB was amazing, and I also had the experience of being listened to!
Talk about what patient care means to you?
It is the care of the whole person. Doing both internal medicine and pediatrics I take care of entire families. I even take care of 3 generations in some cases. Because I know each of the family members I am able to understand more of what is going on in each of their lives. I know the additional stresses and hardships and I can help guide them in their health better.
What are the goals for this practice?
Our goal is simple: to provide excellent primary care for patients in Williamson County. We always want our patients to feel like they are not alone. Within the practice, we are a team. We have 5 physicians that are partners and we include our practice manager. We meet once a week as a group and we make decisions together that affect the direction of the practice. I love being a part of this practice! I love being independent with nobody telling me what to do. I am in a practice with co-workers who care about my well-being. We always want to be on the same page before we move forward with something. If someone is not in agreement, then we talk about it until we can all agree. We stress to our employees, no matter what their role, that they are important parts of the team as well.
What is the culture of this practice?
What we always come back to as a team is… “Patient first.” When it is all said and done we focus on the needs of the patient. We also work hard and integrity is key, but when it all comes full circle we are focused on the patient. There are always medical sales reps trying to offer us some new device or money-making opportunity. The decision making process is easy for us because if it does not center around the well-being of our patients then we don't even consider it.
How do you try and maintain a balanced life outside of work?
That is an ongoing challenge. I have an almost 3-year-old at home so it is certainly a challenge. My parents shared their practice so they were both essentially working part-time to allow time to care for us kids. Working part-time also allowed them to be on the school board, play tennis, garden and volunteer their time as well as raise a family. I am at a phase where I am trying to figure out how that looks for me as a mom who also works full-time and would like to go to yoga, see friends, go on hikes and have a healthy life aside from work. I have to prioritize my time and make sure I am setting aside time for my daughter and exercise and any other extra things. As a mom who works full-time I still have to balance all the household things that we need and so my mind is constantly prioritizing all the various things in my life from home to work to self-care. It is a difficult balancing act.
Have you ever been close to quitting? How did you stay engaged and push through?
I have never even considered quitting. I have contemplated what burn-out would look like in a reflective sort of way, but it has never been a consideration for me. I really just contemplated burn-out as a way of evaluating what I can change.
What do you feel like contributes most to physician burnout?
Insurance is the major reason because they dictate specific metrics that determine how or if we get paid as doctors. The coding and redundancy of checking certain things for each patient is keeping doctors from being as personal with their patients. Being with patients is why we all got into this in the first place. The EMR increases our workload in many ways. It is distracting our attention from our patients while we are in the room with them as we jump through the necessary hoops to get paid.
Who are some of your medical “hero’s”?
My parents, Dr. Randall Rickard and Dr. Susan Andrews, are certainly two of my heroes. My mom went into medicine when there were not that many female doctors. She went to Vanderbilt and there were only 4 or 5 women in her class. That was actually a large number per class for that time! I, on the other hand, was in the first class at Vanderbilt to have the majority be women. I admire her courage.
My dad has this amazing steel trap brain where he remembers everything and just brings so much knowledge to the table to help people. He certainly has helped teach me many things through the years, and when I was in residency I bounced stories and questions off of him often.
Dr. Brad Bullock (former partner) has been a valuable resource to me even before I joined the practice. I spent a lot of time with him in residency. I saw him model going above and beyond for his patients and this was wonderful to see in practice. His actions inspired me and I have sought to model that in my own way.
Dr. Sandi Moutsios was our residency director at Vanderbilt, and she was so warm and open with her patients and residents. She interacted with everyone around her with love and concern. She constantly had people over to her home and was just very caring.
What motivates you?
There are times when I am in the exam room with a patient and they will look at me and tell me how grateful they are that I am their physician. We all can get in our routine and we simply forget the impact that we can make on people. I get tired and can get overwhelmed by the day to day management of the clinic, but when I stop and think about the people that are so grateful that I am here to take care of them... that is what motivates me and brings me in each day.
What methods do you employ to keep improving your knowledge and experience?
This is a difficult one as there is such limited time. I read up on specific issues that arise with patients when a deeper dive is needed, and I have an amazing resource in my partners so I bounce things off of them to pool our experience. I use "Up to Date" regularly. It really is a game changer for continuing education for physicians. I subscribe to Journal Watch emails to get the major headlines regarding primary care. Conferences are great, but with a young child those are not a priority for me right at this time.
If you could offer any advice to younger physicians…what would it be?
I would tell them to not be afraid to go into private practice. I hear many different physicians experiences and a common theme can be that they dislike the environment they are practicing in. The more you have control over the environment and all those things in your practice the more you can create a place that you can function optimally in. If you want to enjoy practicing medicine and stay in it for the long-haul, you need to create an environment that you can thrive in.
Getting to Know the Doc:
Tell us about your family-
I have been married to Todd for 5 years. He is a CPA by trade, but is currently involved in real estate. We have one daughter, Eleanor, who is almost 3 and loves to sing. We also have a cat named Phoenix. My sister and her family live close by and my parents are still in Murfreesboro practicing medicine.
What are some of your hobbies/interests outside of work?
I have been practicing yoga for about a year and love it. I love to hike and am going with some physician friends to hike the Grand Canyon rim to rim in the fall. I also love to sing and love music but don't really have any outlets for that these days. I played the piano growing up, but am very out of practice on that now. I really enjoy baking and will jump at any opportunity to bake for an occasion. I also am a big Duke basketball fan.
What are some movies you really enjoyed?
Lord of the Rings
What book have you enjoyed recently?
I love to read!! I just finished "Why We Sleep"
"Maybe You Should Talk to Someone"
"Daisy Jones and the Six"
What amazing adventures have you been on?
Hiking the Cinque Terre
Medical mission trip to Peru- hike Machu Pichu
Favorite Restaurants in Nashville?
Greys on Main
What is one thing about you that surprises people?
I am pretty good at archery.
Among your friends, what are you best known for?
I’m loyal and I always keep my word.
What are you grateful for today?
My family of course as well as my partners and the environment that we’ve created at our practice for our patients, our employees and ourselves.
photos by Nikayla Skolits Photography